Environment Management Issue of Large Dams
Along with being a basic human need, water is also a basic constituent for the survival of eco-systems of which people and their cultures are important components. The water resources distribution in India, predominantly an agrarian economy, is highly asymmetric and has been accompanied by severe decline in per-capita water availability during the past 50 years, with agriculture being the maximum water user, leading to over-exploitation of ground water and steadily depleting water tables along with a heavy energy bill.
This report focuses on the negative impacts of large scale irrigation and hydroelectric dams from both an environmental and a social perspective. It is designed to describe how dams effect their surrounding physical environment, as well as their social impact on local people and their cultures. To do this, it focuses on the lifecycle of freshwater extraction at it largest scale: through the use of gigantic concrete mega-dams.
Life on this planet has evolved around the availability, movement, and quality of water. Like every other living being on this planet, water is essential for human survival. Because of this, civilization has traditionally been structured around the natural spatial arrangement and flow of water systems. From nomadic trade routes that travel from oasis to oasis, to large modern port cities and blooming desert metropolises, humanity is inseparably linked to water.
A dam is a barrier that impounds water or underground streams. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees (also known as dikes) are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. Hydropower and pumped-storage hydroelectricity are often used in conjunction with dams to provide clean electricity for millions of consumers.
The word dam can be traced back to Middle English and before that, from Middle Dutch, as seen in the names of many old cities.
Most early dam building took place in Mesopotamia and the Middle East. Dams were used to control the water level, for Mesopotamia’s weather affected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and could be quite unpredictable.
The earliest known dam is situated in Jawa, Jordan, 100 km northeast of the capital Amman. This gravity dam featured a 9 m high and 1 m wide stone wall, supported by a 50 m wide earth rampart. The structure is dated to 3000 BC. The Ancient Egyptian Sadd Al-Kafara at Wadi Al-Garawi, located about 25 kilometres south of Cairo, was 102 m long at its base and 87 m wide. The structure was built around 2800 or 2600 B.C. as a diversion dam for flood control, but was destroyed by heavy rain during construction or shortly afterwards. The Romans were also great dam builders, with many examples such as the three dams at Subiaco on the river Anio in Italy. Many large dams also survive at Mérida in Spain.
The oldest surviving and standing dam in the world is believed to be the Quatinah barrage in modern-day Syria. The dam is assumed to date back to the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Sethi(1319-1304 BC), and was enlarged in the Roman period and between 1934-38. It still supplies the city of Homs with water.
Dams have been used by mankind for Direct and Indirect needs and are classified as such:
Direct Water Usage:
? Private / Domestic – Household purposes, Drinking water purpose and landscape irrigation
? Commercial – Restaurants, hotels, golf courses, etc.
? Irrigation – Crop use. Water needs at the scale that large dams provide most often feed industrial farming practices.
? Livestock – Use for animal raising as well as other on-farm needs
? Industrial – Cooling water (power generation, refineries, chemical plants), processing water (manufacturing; pulp and paper, food, high tech, etc.)
? Mining – hydraulic mining, various processes, settling ponds
? General public supply – Firefighting, public parks, municipal office buildings
? Hydroelectric Power – Power generation is one of the most common purposes for the construction of large dams. It is promoted as a totally “clean” form of electricity.
? Flood Control – Dams even out the peaks and lows of a rivers natural flow cycle by calming seasonal flooding, then storing that water for gradual release year round.
? Transportation – Dam locks are used to move ships past large dams. These in conjunction with flood control make transportation feasible on rivers that were traditionally unmanageable.
Distribution of Water Resources
Global distribution of water resources varies greatly by region. Climate, topography, geology, hydrology, upstream water usage, and historic water usage all come into play in determining the availability of water in any given region.
As of 2000, in the above diagram, countries with the least freshwater resources are Egypt at 26 and United Arab Emirates at 61 and the countries with the most freshwater resources are Suriname with 479,000 m3 per capita per year and Iceland with 605000 m3 per capita per year.
This is not to say that everyone in these water rich areas has consistent, affordable, quality water that is assured to them.
Peru, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar are examples of populations without access to safe drinking water.
Types of Dams
Dams can be formed by human agency, natural causes, or even by the intervention of wildlife such as beavers. Man-made dams are typically classified according to their size (height), intended purpose or structure. Large dams are built using several different methods.
International standards define large dams as higher than 15-20 meters and major dams as over 150-250 meters in height. The tallest dam in the world is the 300-meter-high Nurek Dam in Tajikistan. Intended purposes include providing water for irrigation to town or city water supply, improving navigation, creating a reservoir of water to supply industrial uses, generating hydroelectric power, creating recreation areas or habitat for fish and wildlife, retaining wet season flow to minimise downstream flood risk and containing effluent from industrial sites such as mines or factories. Some dams can also serve as pedestrian or vehicular bridges across the river as well. When used in conjunction with intermittent power sources such as wind or solar, the reservoir can serve as pumped water storage to facilitate base load dampening in the power grid. Few dams serve all of these purposes but some multi-purpose dams serve more than one.
1. A saddle dam is an auxiliary dam constructed to confine the reservoir created by a primary dam either to permit a higher water elevation and storage or to limit the extent of a reservoir for increased efficiency. An auxiliary dam is constructed in a low spot or saddle through which the reservoir would otherwise escape. On occasion, a reservoir is contained by a similar structure called a dike to prevent inundation of nearby land. Dikes are commonly used for reclamation of arable land from a shallow lake. This is similar to a levee, which is a wall or embankment built along a river or stream to protect adjacent land from flooding.
2. An overflow dam is designed to be over topped. A weir is a type of small overflow dam that are often used within a river channel to create an impoundment lake for water abstraction purposes and which can also be used for flow measurement.
3. A check dam is a small dam designed to reduce flow velocity and control soil erosion. Conversely, a wing dam is a structure that only partly restricts a waterway, creating a faster channel that resists the accumulation of sediment.
4. A dry dam is a dam designed to control flooding. It normally holds back no water and allows the channel to flow freely, except during periods of intense flow that would otherwise cause flooding downstream.
5. A diversionary dam is a structure designed to divert all or a portion of the flow of a river from its natural course.
By structure, there are 3 types of dams:
1. Gravity dams
2. Arch dams
3. Buttress dams
Gravity Dams use their triangular shape and the sheer weight of their rock and concrete structure to hold back the water in the reservoir.
Arch Dams utilize the strength of an arch to displace the load of water behind it onto the rock walls that it is built into.
Arch dams can only be built where the walls of a canyon are of unquestionable stability. They must also be impervious to seepage around the dam, as this could be a source of dam failure in the future.
Because of these factors, Arch dams can only be built in very limited locations.
Arch dams use fewer materials than gravity dams, but are more expensive to construct due to the extensive amount of expertise required to build one.
Buttress Dams use multiple reinforced columns to support a dam that has a relatively thin structure. Because of this, these dams often use half as much concrete as gravity dams
Buttress dam is a water-tight dam supported at intervals on the downstream side by a series of buttresses or supports. The dam wall may be flat or curved. Most buttress dams are made of reinforced concrete and are heavy, pushing the dam into the ground. Water pushes against the dam, but the buttresses are inflexible and prevent the dam from falling over.
Buttress dams were originally built to retain water for irrigation or mining in areas of scarce resources but cheap labour where materials were scarce or expensive but labour was cheap. A buttress dam is a good choice in wide valleys where solid rock is rare.
As designs have become more sophisticated, the virtues and weaknesses of the buttress type dams have become apparent. The Romans were the first to use buttresses to increase the stability of a dam wall.
Composite dams are combinations of one or more dam types. Most often a large section of a dam will be either an embankment or gravity dam, with the section responsible for power generation being a buttress or arch.
The Bloemhof Dam on the Orange River of South Africa is an excellent example on a gravity/buttress dam.
Materials used to build dams
Large amounts of soil, sand, stone and aggregate and concrete are need for dam construction. If available, these materials will be collected as near to the site of the dam as possible. The extraction of these materials requires large amounts of fossil fuels to operate the machinery. Air and water pollution result from the dust and mud that is created from this process. Concrete is the primary ingredient in any large scale dam. Producing one ton of cement results in the emission of approximately one ton of CO2, created by fuel combustion and the calcinations of raw materials.
2. ISSUES OF LARGE DAMS
The physical impacts of large scale dams fall into several categories:
> Loss of Land
* Destruction of people property in the reservoir zone.
* Loss of possible agricultural, range or forest lands.
> Stagnant Water Table
* Water from unnatural reservoirs seeps down into the water table. This excess water can overload the natural water table, slowing down its flow, so that it ultimately may go stale. This can be damaging to surrounding flora, and has the potential to harm the well water of surrounding peoples.
> Habitat Destruction
* The area that is covered by the reservoir is destroyed, killing whatever habitat existed there beforehand.
* Habitat destruction also happens far upstream from a dam. Migratory fish can no longer travel upstream past large dams in order to reach their spawning grounds.
> Change in Water Characteristics
* Temperature – Large reservoir of water heat up as more water is exposed to the sun for longer periods of time. Aquatic life that is sensitive to temperature cannot adjust to this change in their aquatic climate.
* Salinity – The rise in river salinity due an unnatural reservoir is due to increased evaporation rates.
* Sediment Load – Sediments that wash down the river settle into large reservoirs. In rivers that have high sediment loads this usually determines the life
* Nutrient content – Natural nutrients build up in reservoirs, causing eutrophication.
* O2 content – each of these elements results in a lower oxygen content, further harming aquatic life.
> Dust, Noise pollution from Construction
> Water Pollution
* Industrial and residential pollutants, as well as agricultural runnoff (including high nitrate loads, fertilizers and pesticides). On lake sources such as boats and jet skis add oil and other chemical pollutants to waste water.
* These chemicals build up to toxic levels in reservoirs, especially during dry seasons when little water leaves.
> Habitat Destruction
* Loss of local ecosystem covered by the reservoir.
* Damage caused by improved access to humans: roads, transmission lines, increased migration
> Exotic species introduction
* Aggressive, non-native species of fish are often introduced to reservoirs for farming and sport fishing.
* Vector borne diseases increase in tropical areas due to the creation of large areas of still water. This encourages mosquito breeding, the main vector for the transmission of malaria and dengue.
* Schistostomaiasis is a water borne disease that comes from snails that breed on the upstream side of dams.
> Reservoir Induced Seismicity
* There is a correlation between the creation of a large reservoir, and an increase in seismic activity in an area
* The physical weight of unnatural reservoirs can cause seismic activity. While not the direct cause of earthquakes, the weight of reservoirs can act as a trigger for seismic activity.
* Although not much direct research is available on the subject, the proposed explanation is that “when the pressure of the water in the rocks increases, it acts to lubricate faults which are already under tectonic strain, but have been prevented from slipping by the friction of the rock surfaces”.
* As of now, it is not accurately possible to predict which large dams will produce RIS or how much activity will be produced. Earthquakes that are produced as the result of dams are not usually major, but they still pose a major threat to dam stability and the safety of people living downstream.
> Flow Reduction
* The downstream impacts of the net flow reduction due to extraction upstream can be extensive. They include habitat destruction far downstream at the mouth of the river, natural water table reduction.
> Change in water characteristics
* The changes in water characteristics that are mentioned above continues in the water that is discharged downstream. The cumulative effect of many dams on a single river magnifies each of these factors.
> Change in natural flood patterns
* Natural floods inundate downstream regions with nutrient rich sediments. Traditional farming systems in countries like Egypt (the Nile) and Bangladesh (the Ganges) were dependant upon seasonal floods to wash nutrient rich sediment upon the lower shores of the river.
* They also seasonally clear out blocked waterways, which prevents larger floods from causing massive damage.
The finance that is needed for the construction of large dams causes many problems around the world; especially in poor, underdeveloped countries that are currently trapped in a painfully binding cycle of debt.
Since large scale dams require massive amounts of capital investment, dam construction is one of the primary reasons that countries take out loans from international lending associations.
Countries often take out loans to build large hydroelectric dams in order to improve their industrial infrastructure. The hope is that by boosting their industrial sector, that they will boost their economy into economic prosperity.
3. LARGE DAM PROJECTS AND DISPLACEMENT IN INDIA
The displacement caused by large scale irrigation and hydro-projects has drawn considerable attention in recent years. Many authors have noted that project proposals for such large scale water resource management initiatives seldom include an assessment of the displacement to be caused, or of the costs of rehabilitation.
Numerous studies have also been conducted on resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced persons and of the impacts of displacement on income, standards of living and physical and emotional health. In India, the government, which is the planner, financier, developer and owner of numerous large dam projects, does not have figures of people displaced by large dams, either since independence in 1947. This fact is the biggest sign of the fact that displacement and resettlement of people is the least concern of large dam builders.
This is particularly clear when we see that India is the third largest dam builder country in the world, USA and China reining the first and second positions. India now has over 3600 large dams and over 700 more under construction.
Large dams are the single largest cause of displacement in India since India got independence in 1947. The World Bank notes that though large dams constitute only 26.6% of the total WB funded projects causing displacement, the resulting displacement makes up 62.8% of the total number of people displaced. It is also apparent that project authorities do not consider the problems of displacement and rehabilitation as important parts of the project. The primary concerns are engineering specifications and electricity and irrigation benefits. In this event, concerned authorities seldom undertake detailed and systematic surveys of the population to be displaced. Information on the extent of displacement is therefore hard to obtain. Even when such surveys are conducted, many characteristics of these surveys lead us to question government figures. It has been noted that project authorities often provide lower displacement figures than might actually be the case in proposal documents, so as to show a favourable cost benefit ratio to the funding authority and thus ensure clearance for the project.
Another shortcoming of estimating dam-related displacement is that only reservoir displacement is taken into account. Large dam projects can displace people in a number of ways including due to colonies, due to canals, downstream impacts, catchment area treatment, compensatory afforestation, secondary displacement (at resettlement colonies, for example) and due to related conservation schemes like sanctuaries and national parks. That figures of all such categories displacement, when put together, can lead to much larger figures of displacement as can be seen from the case of Sardar Sarovar Project, under construction on Narmada river in Gujarat state in western India. Here, as per the latest figures of government estimates, while over 41,000 families will get displaced due to reservoir. The canals of SSP will affect a much larger number of people as canals take up 186,000 ha of land compared to reservoir area of 40,000 ha. As per conservative estimates, 24,000 khatedaars (land-holding families, meaning thereby, a much larger number of families, since one joint land holder generally represents many more families) will be seriously affected by canals. Similarly, over 10,000 fisher folk families will lose their livelihood in downstream areas due to complete stoppage of river flow in non monsoon months due to the dam. About 1,000 families have already been affected by the colonies. The World Bank (1991) estimates that equivalent of some 2-5% of the irrigated command area is taken up by canals and a further 3-8% of land is taken up by reservoirs. That these can be gross underestimations is apparent from the case of SSP quoted above, where equivalent of over 10% of projected irrigated command area is to be taken away by canals. Similarly, in case of Subernarekha project on Bihar-Orissa border, the submergence land is over 12% of projected command area land. Displacement also takes place where townships are established for technical and administrative personnel involved in the construction of the project, and where protected areas are established as compensatory measures for the forest lands and natural habitats that are lost to submergence. In areas where the oustees are to be resettled, many of the previous residents who do not have title to the land they cultivate are forced to leave as the land is bought and allotted to project oustees. It is apparent then that estimates of only 2 million people having been displaced by all dams in India till 1990 are vastly inaccurate. While the sample used here is not meant to be representative of all of the India’s dam projects, it emerges that the order of magnitude in which displacement should be estimated is in the tens of millions.
1. Accurate figures of people displaced by large dam projects is difficult to come by due to the utter lack of sensitivity shown by the promoters of large dams across the world.
2. Available estimates of people displaced by large and medium dams in India show that the 140 dams for which such figures are available have displaced over 4.4 million people. However, firstly, these are only government or World Bank estimates and hence, is likely to be very conservative figures. Secondly, these only figures of people displaced by reservoirs and do not include people displaced by related works of dam projects like canals, colonies, downstream impacts, compensatory afforestation, catchment treatment and sanctuaries.
3. While as per GOI admission, less than a quarter of estimated 40 million people displaced by large dams in fifty years have been resettled in India, there is no resettlement of other categories of displaced as there is no policy.
4. The weakest sections of people in India, namely the tribals, the scheduled castes and backward caste people have suffered maximum in the process of displacement, much disproportionate to their population percentages. Women among these classes suffer even more.
5. The condition of people displaced by SSP, who are claimed to have been resettled, is pathetic, with basic civic amenities and livelihoods severely endangered and standard of living much worse than before displacement, as per many independent assessments. If this is the condition of people displaced by most controversial, most visible project that is under scrutiny of the highest court in India and that was for a long time under the scrutiny of the World Bank, and of a project whose proponent claim that the resettlement is best in the world, the condition of other displaced can be expected to be worse.
6. India even now does not have a national resettlement policy. Not that existence of one would help unless there are legal institutional mechanisms to ensure its implementation. This is abundantly clear from the condition of people under the World Bank projects even now, even as the World Bank continues to have an R&R policy that ensures that living standards of people must improve after resettlement.
Generally speaking, for centuries dams have played a key role worldwide in development. Dams were built all over the world to resolve the problems of spatial and temporal insufficiencies of natural precipitation resulting from growing needs. Dams were built to supply water, control floods, irrigate agricultural lands and provide for navigation. They have also been built to generate electric power. As technology advanced increasingly large dams and complex structures were undertaken.
Some critics seem to have already come to a firm conclusion that big dams do more harm than good and that in any case they are a brazen means of taking water, land and irrigation away from the poor and giving it to the rich. Large dams lay the earth to waste, they cause floods, water logging, salinity, and they spread disease and so on.
The present study is concerned only with the development effectiveness of dams. This is not a study about irrigated agriculture or energy management in India. This is not a study on the social, environmental and economic discrimination that is deemed to be present in India today, nor an outline of the steps needed to make India a welfare state without any discrimination, as is indeed enshrined in India’s constitution.
The World Commission on Dams was set up to address the central issues of controversy with respect to large dams and to provide an independent review of their effectiveness in sustainable development. The Commission cannot deal with matters that are, appropriately, the concern of India, that need to be handled within the country by its lawful government and people. The India case study should, therefore, aim at eschewing passion and sentiment and seek to look at the scene objectively in the light of the Indian experience of large dams and the related needs and aspirations for the future as perceived by the Indian people as well as the lessons these might offer to the developing people of the world.
Using aggressive conservation approaches is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to eliminating the need for new dams. Replacing old, leaking infrastructures is costly on the front end, and most municipalities in poor countries lack the funds to do it.
Different conservation techniques and technologies can be applied to all areas of water use, from industry to agriculture. What lacks in most countries is an incentive to conserve. With state subsidized water flowing to areas of industrialization, it is more costly for companies to conserve water than to waste it. The answer proposed by the neoliberal train of thought is the commercialization of water markets. By being forced to pay for their own water, people turn to conservation to reduce costs. This may work well for certain parts of the industrial and commercial sector, but local people can ill afford to pay for water to be delivered to their homes, let alone improve the leaking pipes in their homes.
Water Integration and Management
Instead of providing people with an endless tap, demand side water management provides people with water when they need it in pre-planned quantities. This encourages conservation without raising costs or encouraging commodification.
Water Integration refers to integrating water management policies into all levels of society, public and private. This leads to a separation that has power over water utilities, and can serve as a system of checks and balances.
Stop building large dams
The negative social and ecological effects of large scale dam building far outweigh the positive attributes that they bring to society.
Instead, small dams should be built, where needed, in the control of those who should have it: the people.
Local control of water systems is essential for feasible, equitable, and sustainable water resource development.
All decisions about water must be based on ecosystem and watershed-based management. Only through this method will the ecological limitations of watersheds and the damages that dams create be realized.
These decisions must be local in origin, as they directly affect the people that live in the watershed and the people that are receiving the water.
Having no vested interest in these local concerns, transnational corporations are instrumentally detrimental to the quality, cost and availability of water.
We may now be facing the greatest challenge of our time. As water is the very centrepiece of life, the fight against the globalization and commodification of water is the centrepiece in the fight for global, universal justice and equity.
No partial, conservation oriented solution is going to prevent the collapse of whole societies and ecosystems. A radical rethinking of our values, priorities, and political systems is urgent.
There are many ways to assist the developing world in this crisis; the major among these is the cancellation of the Third World debt. Without the crushing load of debt, countries would be able to control their own resources, and would not be forced into models of development that are not right or natural for their country.
“Water must be declared a basic human right. This might sound elemental, but at the World Water Forum in The Hague, it was the subject of heated debate, with the World Bank and the water companies seeking to have it declared a human need. This is not semantic. If water is a human need, it can be serviced by the private sector. You cannot sell a human right.”
5. CASE 1: NARMADA RIVER – BARGI DAM
One of the world’s foremost controversies around dams is underway in India, where dams are being built on the Narmada River. One of the main global environmental/ human rights groups that fight these dams is the International Rivers Network. India has a Narmada Valley Development Program which involves the construction of 3,000 dams and would flood thousands of acres of forest and agricultural land. India’s government says that the project would provide water to 40 million people and irrigate over 1.8 million hectares. There would be continuous irrigation here that would degrade the fertile agricultural soils. This program will also displace approximately 1.5 million people. The people that oppose this project often place themselves in danger of arrest and detention. There have been much documentation of abuse and excessive force used against opponents of the dam, even though most protests are peaceful demonstrations.
One of the dams on the Narmada named Sardar Sarovar was opposed because it would displace almost half a million people. Another is the Maheshwar Dam which would submerge some of the richest agricultural lands in the area.
Of the 30 big dams proposed along the Narmada, Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) and Narmada Sagar Project (NSP) are the megadams. The Maheshwar and Omkareshwar dams along with SSP and NSP, are to form a complex which would ultimately cater to the needs of SSP. The struggle of the people of the Narmada valley against large dams began when the people to be displaced by SSP began organizing in 1985-86. Since then the struggle has spread to encompass other major dams in various stages of planning and construction chiefly Maheshwar, Narmada Sagar, Maan, Goi and Jobat. Tawa and Bargi Dams were completed in 1973 and 1989 respectively have seen the affected people organize post-displacement to demand their rights.
The Narmada is the largest river in Madhya Pradesh, India, flowing towards the west and falling in the Arabian sea. Its total length is 1312 Kms. of which it covers 1072 Kms. in M.P. The Bargi dam is one of the first supposedly completed dams among the chain of 30 major dams to be constructed on river Narmada. The proposal of this dam construction was conceptualised by the Central Water and Power Commission in 1968 envisaging irrigation in 2.98 lakh ha. and hydro-power generation capacity of 105 MW. Later the Bargi diversion scheme was planned, increasing the total irrigation potential to 4.37 lakh ha. The total cost estimates initially conceived were Rs. 64 crores which since then escalated to 566.31 crores in 1989, excluding the cost of canal construction which is estimated to be about 1660.80 Cr.
The dam construction work started in 1974 and was completed in 1990 when the gates were closed and the dam was filled to its complete capacity. The height of the dam is 69 mts. and length 5.4 kms. A lake of about 75 kms in length and 4.5 kms width, spreading over 26797 ha. in Jabalpur, Mandla and Seoni districts is formed when the water is impounded upto the dam FRL of 422.76m.
162 villages in districts Mandla, Seoni and Jabalpur were affected, submerging about 82 villages completely. Of the 26797 ha of land submerged, 14750 ha. was ownership land, 8478 ha. forest land and 3569 ha. other government land. Among the 7000 families displaced, 43% were tribals, 12% harijans, 38% OBCs and 7% others.
The Narmada valley is known for its fertile land, nature’s bounty, abundant crops, rich socio-cultural life. The submergence area of the Bargi dam once had prosperous farmers, tilling the fertile lands of the Narmada Kacchar, producing abundant food-grains of all varieties without any sort of irrigation or chemical fertilisers. Vegetables and seasonal fruits were also available in plenty. Livestock was healthy and sufficient. There was no dearth of milk and milk products. The region was prosperous and people enjoyed good mutual co-operation in times of marriages and deaths, festivals and all other occasions. Labourers working in the fields of prosperous farmers also lived a life of peace and happiness. Farmers used to make their own agricultural implements and built houses taking their necessities from the nistar forests around their villages.
The villagers were very innocent. All their needs were met from the local markets near by. So there was hardly any contact with cities. Crimes were almost non-existent. People were pious and of a religious, peace-loving nature. In villages like Bijasen, 20 acres of fertile land was communally cultivated and the produce set aside for the visiting Narmada Parikramavasis.
There were many spots and places of natural beauty and religious worship like the Padmighat temple, Meraghat fair ground, Lokeshwarghat, Do-dhara mela area, Gupteshwarghat and Nandikeshwar temple. There was good communal harmony among the Hindu, Muslim, adivasi people of the area.
Issues related to Bargi Dam
The dam affected 162 villages and uprooted about 7000 families. The figures of population indirectly affected are unknown.
Today, the oustees are forced to live in the slums of Jabalpur. They pull rickshaws or work as construction labourers or migrate to the supposedly command areas of the Bargi dam. They go in search of employment to the Patan tehsil of Jabalpur district, Gotegaon in Narsingpur dist. and even went as far as the forests ChadaBaigachek in Dist. Dindori this year, to eke out a miserable living.
* Miscalculation of Submergence area resulting into multiple displacement:
Demarcation of land to be submerged was wrongly carried out. In several villages, houses constructed by oustees on land legally allotted for rehabilitation were submerged when the dam was filled to its full capacity in 1990. Several houses which were not acquired by govt. as they were not to be submerged went under water. Govt. properties like newly constructed school buildings, hand pumps, certain stretches of roads constructed for rehabilitation purposes, also went under water. Such examples are found in villages: Bijasen, Sarangpur, Sarra, Anakwada, Padmi, Sahajpuri, Maili, Gumti etc. Such miscalculations resulted into multiple displacements for several families, without multiple benefits of compensation.
* Escalation of the prices of land:
Sudden demand for purchase of lands escalated property prices, making it beyond the reach of oustees to purchase land within the compensation money they had received. Oustee purchasers were also required to pay heavy registry (stamp duty) charges on purchase of lands, which was not calculated in the compensation granted.
* High-handedness of the Forest department:
With no provision of alternative arrangement for housing sites and livelihoods to many oustees, they were forced to take refuge on the peripheral forest lands for settlement, cultivation and nistar. The forest department came down heavily on the oustees, imposing heavy fines or driving them out using excessive force than necessary, example: villages Tatighat, Bhaliwada, Pandiwada, Gadaghat. Such treatment by the forest officials added to the financial burden of the oustees and dehumanised them further.
* Loss of Cattle based Livelihood:
With the submergence of forests and grazing lands, cattle rearing which was a thriving occupation in the region, became a liability, forcing people to sell their cattle. Due to inadequate fodder, the cattle continued to die of starvation. Cattle accidents became a common problem as the feet of the cattle got stuck in the wet mud around the reservoir, while approaching the lake, which was the only drinking water source available for them.
* Disruption of village communication:
Inter village and intra-village approach got cut off as small streams, tributaries and nalas got filled up with back-waters of the dam. Villages like Bijasen, Patha, Lakhanpur which were at one time the thriving markets of the area, got completely cut-off from road links, destroying the markets and the economy of the region. The hardest hit were the porters, petty traders, people who transported loads on small horses over short distances, etc.
People approaching markets, hospitals, children approaching schools now have to bear extra economic burden to cross the small stretches of backwaters by boat as they need to pay the ferry. Previously they could just walk across.
The electric substation at Jhurki, Dist. Seoni was coming under submergence and was hence dismantled. This was providing power to 19 villages and about 100 irrigation wellspumps had been energised. Today, all these farmers have their electric pump-sets kept in their houses. The area which was once irrigated is now without irrigation.
* Increase in Psychological Stress:
An abnormally large numbers of deaths of people between the age group 50-60 years occurred during 1990-93, immediately after the formation of the huge lake. The entire life-cycle was disrupted, the people were unable to bear the shocks of emptiness and purposelessness created in life. Farmers who were used to agriculture cultivation in the rainy season throughout their life, suddenly found themselves without work. The region known for rich cultural life and visits of Parikramavasis was completely disrupted creating a void in the community life.
Payment of compensation to the head of the joint family led to bitter quarrels over sharing of compensation amount within the family, leading to withering of family life.
Land ownership had prestige attached to it; the receiving of cash compensation did not bring back the lost prestige. It was possible to take loan because of the ownership of land, or to stand bail for somebody. All this was lost.
With loss of property and prestige marriages of young people became difficult as people from outside villages were unwilling to send their daughters as brides to the submergence areas.
* Environmental destruction:
Forests of the submergence area were clear- felled by the Forest department, which showed unusual alacrity in carrying out the felling operations.
‘The instructions of the (forest) department were that forest standing in the strip between FRL and FRL-4 mts. should not be cleared. But before these instructions were received, the strip mentioned above had already been cleared in Seoni and Jabalpur districts. What had actually happened was that the Forest department first issued orders to the local officers of the department to clear-fell and remove the entire forest area coming under submergence.
In the prospect of showing increase in revenue receipt, or because of some other reason best known to them, the forest were cut as early as they could be so done in Seoni and Jabalpur districts. In Mandla, however, the strip (FRL-(FRL-4)) could not be fully cut. In the mean time, the higher forest authorities perhaps realised the dangerous and far-reaching implications of the orders to cut all the forest.
Revised orders were therefore issued to leave the strip between FRL and FRL-4. As stated in the preceding paragraph, either these orders were late in coming or the forest officers in Jabalpur and Seoni were too quick in complying with the earlier order. Be that as it may, the fact is that the entire forest has been clear-felled and removed in Seoni and Jabalpur and the strip areas would become available for cultivation.
No cost of submergence of the dense forests has been considered in the DPR (1968), neither for the timber (mostly teak), nor for non-timber forest produce (NTFP).
People from 8-10 villages around Bijasen used to collect a lot of ‘Lac’ from the forest and traders from districts Balaghat and Seoni used to buy it. (‘Lac’ is used for making bangles, as sealing wax etc.)
* Loss of habitat:
With rising water levels the oustees settled on forest, revenue or irrigation department’s land. These being small patches of land, the housing and habitat are highly inadequate for family needs and there is no scope for expansion to start new families.
With great difficulty some of the revenue lands were regularised, but the problem still remains for forest and irrigation lands. Not having legal titles to house plots has deprived people of access to government welfare schemes and civic amenities.
* Inadequacy of Civic amenities:
People have been shifted to higher grounds because of submergence. Old drinking water sources being submerged, women have great difficulty in fetching drinking water. They many times have to depend on stagnant reservoir water, especially in monsoons, example: villages Sarangpur, Chamarwah Baigatola, Maldha Madaitola, Chaurai, Hinotia.
Village people normally went to forests close to the village for defecation. In several villages, the approach to such forest areas is now cut off because of backwaters. Example villages Pipariya, Bijasen, Gadaghat, Patha, Maldha etc. People now have to either climb a big hill or cross water by small boats for purpose of sanitation. This causes great hardships especially to women.
Children have to cross long stretches of water by boats to go to school. Patients find difficulty in going to doctors. School teachers, health workers are unwilling to stay in such villages.
* Increase in health problems:
Lack of nutrition due to loss of agriculture and forest based livelihoods, has led to general decline in the health status of the affected people. People were used to traditional home remedies. But the herbal medicines are now submerged. Incidence of diseases such as Falciparum Malaria and water borne diseases has drastically increased. About 150 people died during Aug.-Nov.1996 in the oustee villages.
‘On receipt of a report about high prevalence of malaria and deaths in submerged villages of Narayanganj PHC of Dist. Mandla due to Bargi dam in October- November 1996, an investigation into the causes was carried out in 20 villages. Blood smears from fever cases and contacts of diseased patients were collected. Slide positively rates was over 70%, of which more than 90% was Plasmodium Falciparum. Mass blood surveys of infant and pregnant women revealed 39% and 62 % parasite prevalence rate respectively. More than 80% children (2-9yrs) had enlarged spleen. Such high Malaria prevalence appeared to be maintained byAnopheles Culicifacies and An. Fluviatilis which could not be suppressed by intensive surveillance, prompt radical treatment with 1500mg Chloroquine and 45mg Primaquine and 2 rounds of special focal spray with DDT in October 1996 and January 1997. There is, therefore, an urgent need to develop suitable malaria control strategy by replacement of insecticides in conjunction with prompt and effective radical treatment.’
* Increase in seismic activity:
An earthquake of intensity 6.2 hit Jabalpur and neighbouring districts on 22 May 1997, causing about 35 deaths and massive damage to property. Severe damages were reported from several oustee villages. Some scientists claim the cause of this earthquake being reservoir induced seismicity caused due to construction of the Bargi dam.
* Secondary displacement
Occupational groups residing outside the submergence area but depending upon the economy of the submerged area have suffered loss of livelihoods. Example: village artisans, petty traders, landless labourers etc. No efforts have been made to identify such groups and ameliorate their distress.
The Bargi dam project has been founded on the premises of confusion, mis-conceptualisation and ignorance, not only of its technicalities, but also of the invaluable, intimate and complex human, ecological and environmental issues. Even a superficial look into the various reports and documents pertaining to the project, points out the inherent contradictions between the facts quoted in one document over the other.
The Bargi case amply demonstrates the type of justification of large dam projects, with the tendency of devaluing costs and escalating the benefits, which eventually are not capable of being materialised, demand immense human and environmental sacrifices, which are unwarranted and irreplaceable. The ecological and environmental costs in fact do not even find a mention in the Bargi dam appraisal reports.
Superficial attempts by the Government to remedy the human and ecological losses, designing a plethora of expensive schemes, in the absence of appropriate policy and legal framework, only add to the miseries of people. The various documents pertaining to the Bargi dam make this amply evident.
The immense demands placed on financial and natural resources to relocate and rehabilitate a huge population of displaced people, the trauma, stress and miseries inherent in such processes, the misrepresentation of the costs and benefits, are all inevitable aspects in the construction of mega-dam projects.
It is high time that policy makers and society come to terms with the ground realities of the issues involved in the construction of large dams and make clear priorities defining an ecologically sustainable and ‘Just’ development paradigm.
It would require a clear and strong political will to depart from the present dehumanising development and accept and face the challenge of looking into the future, with expressions of viable alternatives which are socially, economically and environmentally more ‘Just’ and humane.
6. CASE 2: TEHRI DAM
The Tehri dam, when completed, will be one of the highest dams in the world harnessing the
waters of two important Himalayan rivers – Bhagirathi and Bhilangana. Tehri dam is finally
expected to be 260.5 m high and impound 3.22 million cu m of water. The reservoir is expected to irrigate 2,70,000 hectares of land and generate 346 mw of hydel power. The dam will completely submerge Tehri town and 23 villages, while 72 other villages will be partially
submerged. Nearly 5,200 hectares of land will also be lost to the reservoir. In addition, about 85,000 persons will be displaced by the dam.
The Tehri dam has witnessed continuous questioning and protest by various people, including the noted environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna who has virtually made it his life-long mission to stop the construction of the dam by living at the dam site and by going on periodic fasts. To marshal their case, the Tehri opposition has tried to establish connections between ecological, social and mythical values through scientific studies, environmental campaigns and cultural religious references, thus engaging in a wide gamut of environmental politics.
Those opposed to the dam emphasise the economic life and structure of the dam, its geology and seismicity, displacement and rehabilitation, cost and benefit. They also talk about the cultural and religious values of the Ganga river and the Himalayan region. They attempt to use scientific knowledge to explain their perceptions of imaginative and emotional truths. They go on fasts, dharnas, demonstrations, and other agitation programmes, to focus on their demands.
The anti-Tehri dam politics has been subject to a collaborative relationship between what is ‘factual’, ‘scientific’ and ‘technical’ and what is ‘religious’, ‘faith’, ’emotional’ and ‘mythical’. This collaboration seeks to heal the great environmental and cultural wound that development and the dam has inflicted on the region. Towards this end, they speak the language of ecological politics, as it was the universal language of the anti big-dam movement of the 1970s. They also invoke certain metaphors, and it is through many of these that the anti-dam forces, more especially Sunderlal Bahuguna, reach out to particular religious practices and mythical beliefs. In their use of these metaphors and myths, the environmentalists often come close to the beliefs of conservative Hindu forces and their chosen communal path. In effect, the metaphor and the myth is the Trojan horse through which communal politics enters and re-enters green politics.
Attitudes against big projects and dams, the Tehri dam in particular, were part of the growth of the environmental movement in India in the 1970s. This period is generally seen as one of growing environmental consciousness and movements. One popular mode was to use facts and figures, scientific methods and techniques, to challenge a project that too claimed to be based on scientific calculation and assessment. The concern with reason and measurement, data and cost calculation was like a social enterprise and found expression not only in the setting up of the Tehri Bandh Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti in 1978 and its various campaigns, but also in several studies, research papers and articles.
Through an analysis of technical, social and environmental variables, it has been argued that the economic life of the dam will not exceed 61.4 years and the dam will not yield promised results within the next fifty years at least, by which time the reservoir would be substantially silted up. Regarding the real life situation of the Tehri dam oustees, problems of land alienation, destitution, inequality, abrupt and forced changes in the agricultural pattern, breakage of the joint family system, total lack of the village commons, educational and health facilities were emphasised. Environmental politics against big projects is often also the preservation and pursuit of the natural and the beautiful. Aesthetic issues revolve around the depiction of what is pristine and heavenly at the project site and what constitutes natural and harmonious living. This has been an important part of the criticism against big projects like dams. In the particular case of Tehri dam, the region and the project site have been repeatedly referred to as pious, peaceful and solitary. The Himalayan region and the Ganga are seen as symbols of a divine force, a thing of beauty and a point of contact with the infinite. Though this landscape regularly appears on the canvas of environmentalists, it is not necessarily associated with mythical and religious figures and symbols.
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